Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The current issue of the Smithsonian magazine (Jan 2010) has a long article about the Dead Sea Scrolls and the archaeology of Qumran. Despite the title, most of the article is devoted to surveying the many different interpretations of the archaeological data of Qumran itself. It is a remarkable article for the simple fact that it is  about Qumran and yet well-balanced, giving equal time to multiple minority views about the site. Personally, I share the skepticism of Yuval Peleg concerning the site as a settlement of a religious community:
But hearing the dramatic recitation, Peleg, 40, rolls his eyes. “There is no connection to the Essenes at this site,” he tells me as a hawk circles above in the warming air. He says the scrolls had nothing to do with the settlement. Evidence for a religious community here, he says, is unconvincing. He believes, rather, that Jews fleeing the Roman rampage hurriedly stuffed the documents into the Qumran caves for safekeeping. After digging at the site for ten years, he also believes that Qumran was originally a fort designed to protect a growing Jewish population from threats to the east.
I agree with Peleg, so I'm not quite sure what Jodi Magness is getting at when she's quoted as saying:
But Peleg’s view has won few adherents. “It’s more interpretation than data,” says Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who shares de Vaux’s view that the site was a religious community. She says that some archaeologists—by refusing to acknowledge evidence that residents of Qumran hid the scrolls—are inclined to leap to conclusions since their research relies solely on the ambiguous, physical remains at the site.
"More interpretation than data"?! The data are all meaningless without interpretation. By evidence that residents of Qumran hid the scrolls, I assume she means the similar pottery found in the caves and at the site. Is there more than that? All that proves is that local pottery was used to hide scrolls. It says nothing about who was doing the hiding.

I recommend the article for anyone interested in an overview of current research related to Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

HT: Robert Cargill


  1. The Magen and Peleg approach to Qumran first bracketed off 900 scrolls and accounts of Essenes (Pliny, Solinus, Dio, Josephus, Philo and others) then, after ignoring evidence, later declared scrolls and Essenes have nothing to do with Qumran. Their claim of pottery export lacks scientific data. The Smithsonian article included factual errors, some of them noted in comments to that article.

  2. Thanks, Stephen. I noticed your comments on the original article. I don't agree with the pottery export aspect of their theory either. As for the other factual errors, I thought the article was simply representing other scholars' interpretations of the facts. If it was more than that, I'll have to go back and re-read and look closer at your comments.

  3. Dear Doug

    Can I refer to what the purpose of Stephen Goranson said about the Magen and Peleg i have read the article in the Complete World of Dead Sea Scrolls.

    Is it a royal property inscribed bnik.

    Have you read Joshua ch 15:16

    In the Book of 2Chronicles 26:10 Uzziah King of Judah might have built the towers in the Arabah ( Dead Sea Valley) including City of Salt.

    Some of the 900 scrolls do mention Zadokites priests were the New Cultic Order replacing the former which was King David's royal property of The House of Zadok was the First Kohen Gadol (High Priest) family of Onias 3rd and its members who founded at Qumran and it's own Dead Sea Scrolls.

    John Stuart